Thursday, 25 March 2010



This is from George Orwell's 1949 review of Gandhi's autobiography:

Close friendships, Gandhi says, are dangerous, because "friends react on one another" and through loyalty to a friend one can be led into wrong-doing. This is unquestionably true. Moreover, if one is to love God, or to love humanity as a whole, one cannot give one's preference to any individual person. This again is true, and it marks the point at which the humanistic and the religious attitude cease to be reconcilable. To an ordinary human being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than others. The autobiography leaves it uncertain whether Gandhi behaved in an inconsiderate way to his wife and children, but at any rate it makes clear that on three occasions he was willing to let his wife or a child die rather than administer the animal food prescribed by the doctor. It is true that the threatened death never actually occurred, and also that Gandhi--with, one gathers, a good deal of moral pressure in the opposite direction--always gave the patient the choice of staying alive at the price of committing a sin: still, if the decision had been solely his own, he would have forbidden the animal food, whatever the risks might be. There must, he says, be some limit to what we will do in order to remain alive, and the limit is well on this side of chicken broth. This attitude is perhaps a noble one, but, in the sense which--I think--most people would give to the word, it is inhuman. The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid.

And this is from Leonard Cohen's novel, Beautiful Losers
published in 1966:

What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

I had coffee not so long ago with the cousin of a friend of mine. My friend is a writer and his cousin a business man and they both live in a country with a rather sketchy understanding of human rights. I knew that my friend had written a book which was critical of his country's regime and asked the cousin whether this book had been published. He said no and then added that if one has relatives one has certain responsibilities. I took his point and changed the subject but have been thinking about his response ever since. If you stand up to a dictatorship but harm your family in the process have you actually achieved anything or have you merely betrayed the one group of people towards whom you have a clear responsibility? On the other hand if you let the world around you go to pot and only look out for your own kin then are you any better than the ruling clans and mafias who also do all they can to protect their own family interests?

The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits


I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

(Zbigniew Herbert)

Friday, 19 March 2010

Sweet and sour pork

That whether
it's an eyelash
or a pubic
hair matters
must date
from when
we moved
from four
to two feet
& our mouths
became closer
to everyone's
eyes than arses.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Reading this Thursday

The Paris literary journal
Upstairs at Duroc
invites you to a reading in honor of France’s Poetry Month
Le Printemps des Poètes
with recent work both in English and French (with English translations) by poets

Vannina Maestri
Rufo Quintavalle
Alexandra Sashe
Mark Terrill

When: Thursday March 18, 2010 at 7:30 PM

Where: The American Library in Paris, 10 rue du Général Camou,75007 Paris

Métro: Ecole Militaire or RER Pont de l’Alma.

vannina20maestri1_2French poet Vannina Maestri lives and works in Paris. She has published many books of poetry, including Vie et aventures de Norton ou Ce qui est visible à l'oeil nu (Editions Al Dante, 2002), Mobiles (Al Dante, 2005), and Il ne faut plus s'énerver (Editions Dernier Télégramme, 2008). Her work has been featured in many journals and anthologies. She was co-editor of the magazine JAVA, as well as participating in radio programs and poetry readings. She was the Centre National du Livre grant recipient in 2003.

rufoquintavalle_img_13193_2Rufo Quintavalle was born in London in 1978 and lives in Paris. He is the author of the chapbook, Make Nothing Happen (Oystercatcher Press, 2009), is on the editorial board of Upstairs at Duroc and is currently Acting Poetry Editor for the online magazine, Nthposition. His work has been widely published around the world and was recently nominated for a Puschcart Prize.allexandra_sashe7111_2

Alexandra Sashe, born in Moscow in 1976, graduated with a degree in English and Italian linguistics from Moscow University. Her work has been published recently in The Journal, The Delinquent, Equinox, Decanto, Paroles des Jours and La Reata.

markterrill20-20photo20by20moon1_2Mark Terrill shipped out of San Francisco as a merchant seaman to the Far East and beyond, studied and spent time with Paul Bowles in Tangier, Morocco, and has lived in Europe since 1984. He is the author of 16 volumes of poetry, memoir and translations, including the Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express (Main Street Rag, 2008), Superabundance (Longhouse, 2008) and The United Colors of Death (Pathwise Press, 2003). Recently he guest-edited a special German Poetry issue of the Atlanta Review. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he currently lives near Hamburg, Germany, where he co-edits the poetry journal Full Metal Poem.

Monday, 15 March 2010

rentre, rien ne te retient

Thursday, 11 March 2010


It wasn't meant to happen like this. Real Madrid's crazy summer spending spree has propelled them to the top of La Liga but the real point behind buying Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema et al was to finally break their Champions League jinx (six early eliminations in the last six years) and win European football's most prestigious prize, the cherry on the cake being that this year's CL final is scheduled to be played in Real's stadium, the Santiago Bernabeu. In the event though it was in this same stadium last night that their dream came to an end, a 1-1 draw with Lyon meaning that the Merengues once again have failed to advance beyond the first knock-out round. Real were by far the better side in the first half of the game but they failed to capitalize on it. Cristiano Ronaldo's early goal meant the game was tied (Lyon had won the first leg 1-0) and the second half strike from Lyon's Bosnian youngster Miralem Pjanic saw the French side go through on aggregate. I felt Lyon probably deserved the victory. Real were magisterial in the first half but you expect that from a team of their calibre playing in front of their home supporters. What you do not expect is the way they folded after the interval. Apart from Ronaldo who looked dangerous almost every time he had the ball Real seemed unimaginative - it was almost as if they were biding their time and playing for penalties. Lyon started the second half much stronger and fought through right until the end whereas even after Pjanic's strike Madrid seemed unwilling to give it their all. Real Madrid are the richest club in the world and have a team sheet that is simply jaw dropping but as my coach at school used to say: a team of champions can't beat a champion team.

No real surprises in last night's other fixtures except perhaps the magnitude of AC Milan's defeat at the hands of Manchester United. Wayne Rooney who appears to have got his temper problem under control (is this a side-effect of becoming a new father?) has matured into a wonderful player and scored twice last night as the Mancunians obliterated their fellow European heavyweights 4-0 (7-2 on aggregate). Milan won this competition in 2007 but having refused to rebuild their team since then their defeat last night was no surprise. They have too many players the wrong side of 30 and while regular visits to the plastic surgeon can keep their president, Silvio Berlusconi, looking young and shiny (well, shiny at any rate) no such equivalent exists for professional sportsmen.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Najlae Lhimer

I don't know who (if anyone) actually reads this blog but for any hypothetical readers out there who don't have access to the French media here's a little story which is not important enough to have reached the foreign newspapers but which reflects well the climate in France at the moment. Najlae Lhimer is a 19 year old woman who fled Morocco in 2005 to escape a forced marriage (yes, do the maths, she was 14 at the time). She went to live with her brother in Loiret, a region in the centre of France. Her brother turned out to be no better than the other family members she had escaped from in Morocco and after being severely beaten to punish her for smoking she decided to complain to the police. She went to her local police station on the 18th of February and on the 20th February she found herself on a one-way flight to Rabat. Instead of listening to her complaint and prosecuting her brother the authorities treated her as an illegal immigrant (which she was) and exported her. Following pressure from the organization, Education Sans Frontières, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy decided to revoke this decision yesterday, an announcement planned to coincide with the International Women's Day. So King Nicolas the Short is the hero and the stupid local policemen are the villains, right? No, wrong. The villain is the government which created a new ministry of "Immigration and National Identity" (the running of which was confided first to Sarkozy's brown-nosing newt of a mate Brice Hortefeux and then to the Socialist turncoat Eric Besson) and which forces the police to perform a set number of expulsions per year. The police, guilty perhaps of a certain laziness, decided that the easiest way to fill their quotas would be to carry out identity checks in front of schools, at soup kitchens and, as it now appears, in police stations when victims come to complain of domestic violence. This is disgusting. And so too is Sarkozy's opportunistic show of magnanimity a few days before France's regional elections. Either the guy believes in the measures he has put in place or he doesn't but the situation at the moment is the worst of all possible worlds: a system where your rights depend not on the law but on the Neronic vagaries of presidential favour.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Unemployment is around the 10% mark in both the US and France, a situation blamed on the world economic downturn. But what if this relatively high level of unemployment in two countries who are often considered as polar opposites when it comes to attitudes to work is nothing to do with the crisis that rocked the banks and the housing market and just a reflection of reality? Is it realistic to expect there to be 100% employment? What was the point in all the technological advances mankind has made since the Industrial Revolution if everyone still needs to labour away to earn a living? A machine that can work more efficiently than a human will, and should, put that person out of a job. To say that unemployment is a natural consequence of human progress is not to deny that it is a serious problem; both at a national level - the government is picking up the bill for those technological advances through social security payments - and also because of the demoralizing effects it has on those without a job. So what's the solution? To keep on paying someone to stick at their old job when a cheaper mechanical alternative exists is to pass on higher prices to consumers. It is also a somewhat Luddite position which devalues the technical achievements of those who made this advance possible. To create new jobs? Renewable energy and the whole green economy is currently being heralded as a possible means to cut unemployment. If this works then that's fantastic - a cleaner planet, a smaller social security bill and fewer miserable jobless people. But the Green Revolution will inevitably mean the destruction of jobs as well and even if the overall equation works out positive (there will be more solar panel installers than there were offshore oil men say) the underlying problem does not go away - the whole point of progress (or at any rate an inevitable side effect of it) is to make people redundant. At some point the job creation phase of the Green Revolution will turn into a phase of stagnation and then job destruction as we invent means to do all that good green work with fewer hands. The only solution I can see is to try and spread that 10% around a little more fairly. Rather than having 10% of the population unemployed have the whole population employed at 90%. And stop considering work as an end in itself. Le travail c'est la liberté was one of Nicolas Sarkozy's election slogans. Work is freedom. Even without the Auschwitz-meets-Orwell pedigree of this phrase it is palpable bullshit. Work exists so that we can gain the money we need to live and human ingenuity exists to enable us to gain that money by working less.

Saturday, 6 March 2010



Friday, 5 March 2010


five windows and a bellyful of skate,
krill by the shedload, incandescent
krill, then lobsters, kelp and comfry

dishonest attempts at inclusiveness

Thursday, 4 March 2010


The French tendency to moan pisses me off most times I encounter it. But yesterday at the Stade de France to see the French national team take on the European champions Spain I have to admit I kind of admired it. The result of the match was something of a foregone conclusion and once Spain had gone two nil up at halftime there was never any doubt how the evening was going to end. Indeed Spain were so thoroughly in control they could afford to make six substitutions in the second half and still walk all over the poor Bleus. In such a drama free environment the only real excitement of the evening was in seeing the French fans turn against their own team like a SeaWorld killer whale. Their captain, Thierry Henry, who put in a very mediocre performance (among other things it was his error that gifted the Spanish their first goal) was whistled pretty much every time he touched the ball and when he was finally substituted to make way for the carthorse, Sidney Govou, was booed off the pitch. The lion's share of the abuse though was reserved for the national embarrassment that is Raymond Domenech. At one moment an image of the French trainer flashed up on the big screens hung above each goal mouth. It was only there for a couple of seconds but that was enough to have the stadium erupt in jeers and chants of "Domenech démission" which only increased in intensity as the evening wore on to its inevitable end. Leaving aside the gladiatorial pleasure of watching strangers suffer under the floodlights I think the two things I appreciated in this spectacle were:

1. I agreed with the criticisms. Domenech is an appalling trainer who should have gone a long time ago, and Henry no longer has the necessary moral authority to be captain. If John Terry can be stripped of the England captaincy for sleeping with a team-mate's girlfriend, an affair that has nothing to do with football, then why should Henry be allowed to keep the captain's arm-band after his flagrant spot of cheating against Ireland in the World Cup play-offs?

2. Football fans, for all the bad press they get, are a docile bunch who put up with a lot of crap a lot of the time. There were 80.000 people in the stadium last night. A sizeable minority were supporting Spain and there must have been a few neutrals as well but still 50 thousand or so were there to watch France. They had all paid between 20 and 100 euros to be there. That works out at something like two and a half million euros. As I said football fans tend to be a loyal, long-suffering bunch but if, with that level of investment, your team regularly puts in performances like France did last night then it is only right for the worm to turn.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

anothernew month

Monday, 1 March 2010

March's poems are now online at featuring work from the following poets:

Brentley Frazer
Joe Ross
David Caddy
Nathan Thompson
Morgan Harlow
John Findura
Michael Pedersen
Claire Trévien
Stephen Emmerson
Ricky Garni

New work is posted every month; if you want to submit then write to me at rquintav AT gmail DOT com. Send up to six poems embedded in the body of an email. No attachments please! We accept all styles of poetry. For more information see here or browse in the extensive archive.